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Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure [Paperback]

Sarah Macdonald
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 13 2004
In her twenties, journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India and came away with a lasting impression of heat, pollution and poverty. So when an airport beggar read her palm and told her she would return to India—and for love—she screamed, “Never!” and gave the country, and him, the finger.

But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true. When the love of Sarah’s life is posted to India, she quits her dream job to move to the most polluted city on earth, New Delhi. For Sarah this seems like the ultimate sacrifice for love, and it almost kills her, literally. Just settled, she falls dangerously ill with double pneumonia, an experience that compels her to face some serious questions about her own fragile mortality and inner spiritual void. “I must find peace in the only place possible in India,” she concludes. “Within.” Thus begins her journey of discovery through India in search of the meaning of life and death.

Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity—can survive.

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From Publishers Weekly

Australian radio correspondent Macdonald's rollicking memoir recounts the two years she spent in India when her boyfriend, Jonathan, a TV news correspondent, was assigned to New Delhi. Leaving behind her own budding career, she spends her sabbatical traveling around the country, sampling India's "spiritual smorgasbord": attending a silent retreat for Vipassana meditation, seeking out a Sikh Ayurvedic "miracle healer," bathing in the Ganges with Hindus, studying Buddhism in Dharamsala, dabbling in Judaism with Israeli tourists, dipping into Parsi practices in Mumbai, visiting an ashram in Kerala, attending a Christian festival in Velangani and singing with Sufis. Paralleling Macdonald's spiritual journey is her evolution as a writer; she trades her sometimes glib remarks ("I've always thought it hilarious that Indian people chose the most boring, domesticated, compliant and stupidest animal on earth to adore") and 1980s song title references (e.g., "Karma Chameleon") for a more sensitive tone and a sober understanding that neither mocks nor romanticizes Indian culture and the Western visitors who embrace it. The book ends on a serious note, when September 11 shakes Macdonald's faith and Jonathan, now her husband, is sent to cover the war in Afghanistan. Macdonald is less compelling when writing about herself, her career and her relationship than when she is describing spiritual centers, New Delhi nightclubs and Bollywood cinema. Still, she brings a reporter's curiosity, interviewing skills and eye for detail to everything she encounters, and winningly captures "[t]he drama, the dharma, the innocent exuberance of the festivals, the intensity of the living, the piety in playfulness and the embrace of living day by day..--he drama, the dharma, the innocent exuberance of the festivals, the intensity of the living, the piety in playfulness and the embrace of living day by day."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Australian MacDonald didn't fall in love with India her first time there, at age 21. So when her boyfriend, Jonathan, a reporter for ABC, is sent there for work, she reluctantly follows after a year of separation. At first, life in India is as bad as she remembered it--overcrowded, smoggy, disturbing. A serious bout of pneumonia puts her in an Indian hospital, but as she recovers, she begins to make friends in India and to understand the culture. She finds herself attending lavish Indian weddings and trying to comfort her friend Padma, whose mother commits suicide after Padma marries without her permission. MacDonald makes an effort to understand the many diverse religions of the area, including taking a 10-day sojourn in a Buddhist temple and discussing religion with Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and even a group of visiting Israelis. With Jonathan, she takes a trip to war-torn Kashmir, an area that is at once achingly beautiful and devastatingly dangerous. A lively, snappy travelogue. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Please stay in Oz July 18 2004
Format:Paperback
This book seems to have caused great offence - due either to its cover or its content, or both. I'm neither a Hindu nor Indian so I've no idea whether or not the cover is offensive. However, the UK version appears different to the US one, which gives rise to the question: did anyone bother to check before it was published in the US?
Skipping past the issue of the cover, what of the content? Well, I thought that there was little in the book which taught me anything more about India than I'd read elsewhere (for example by Mark Tully and William Dalrymple). Thus once again you get a description of the Kumbh Mela, a trip to Kashmir, visits to ashrams - pretty much the usual stuff. The difference is that those other writers did it better, with deeper insight, greater balance and more respect for their subject.
Much of the writing and observations in this book are distinctly shallow - the trip to Mumbai to learn about the Parsis, and the ravings about Sikhs made my toes curl. In different ways, the author did a disservice to both. Apparently India is a "land of contrasts" - a stunning insight. Whether or not her descriptions of the attitudes exhibited to her by Indian men are true, I don't know. Neither do I know whether she is stunningly attractive, or whether the appearance of any white woman in India is enough to send Mr Average Indian into a sexual frenzy, but it did seem a bit far-fetched to depict every Indian as a lecher. Oh, and apparently it's OK to ogle Ms MacDonald so long as you do it in Sydney!
The author goes to various ashrams and religious establishments, arrives sceptically, is moved by the experience, then shakes it all off. Or not - she blames a sadhu for her pneumonia and a Hindu saint for her expanding boobs. Large sections of the book are devoted to how she looks, how her friends look, and recounting screechy conversations between the girls. All very irritating, shallow and vain.
(...)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a good journey March 11 2012
By Jan
Format:Paperback
I was hopeful at the beginning that this book would give some humourous insights to the vast and wonderous land that is India. But it was not to be. On the whole it seemed a sweeping and unfair generalization of the people that make up this incredible land. Ms MacDonald proved to be so careless and so biased in her views that her humour failed miserably. It was not a journey worth going on.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book on India EVER July 2 2004
By kriti
Format:Paperback
I'm an Indian and I've lived in India for most of my life. I read this book to attempt to understand a foreigner's perception of India. Each page made me feel humiliated by the sweeping generalizations that Ms. Macdonald makes about Indian men, women, religion, belief, society and culture. I cannot even begin to point out the mistakes she has made or explain how angry I felt while reading this book. She tries to clump people together as if every Hindu, Sikh, Muslim or Buddhist behaves and thinks in the same way as she described. Every person who visits India will have a different experience and if you want to write a book, you only need one sentence - Nothing is predictable and no generalizations can be made. In my opinion, if you want to learn about India, stay away from this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Fun! Feb. 23 2009
Format:Paperback
I too have lived in India as a Western foreigner. I got this book during one of my living experiences there and laughed out loud regularly while reading it. It is a good fun read!

You will likely learn a thing or two about India, but really I don't think that this is what the book is truly for. I see that there are those who are offended by her generalizations and the fact that the book really only scrapes the surface of India - culture and religion. This book is not a learning tool. It is however, nothing to be offended by.

For a foreigner living in India (different than traveling), it is an amazing and intense experience. India is so different than what we know that you often need to come at it with a great sense of humor. This is what Sarah McDonald does. The craziest, strangest experiences you never thought you would be having happen to you in India. For me this book was a reflection of that. When I miss India, I read this book.

I generally hate reading other people's travel writing. It just makes me jealous. And really one person's experience is that - just one persons experience. But I love this one. If you would like a lighthearted read by a humorous woman who came to love India through daily living experience and laughter this is the one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful April 23 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I happened upon this book one day in a Chapters bookstore, attracted by the title and the cover. I have a place in my heart for India and it's people, though I have never been there. I loved this book, and many of the people and situations Sara described have stayed with me, and still make me smile many years later. No, it's not great literature, but it's a wonderful adventure told by a delightful and alive young writer. It's a shame that people take themselves so seriously, and are so defensive, that they can't smile at themselves and their culture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book Feb. 16 2006
Format:Paperback
Must read for people planning to travel to India.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for India visitors Feb. 15 2006
Format:Paperback
Amazing book i picked it up on Amsterdam airport could not put it down till i finished it. Must read for someone planning to visit India.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Only for I-Love-Travel-Divas... Aug. 31 2005
Format:Paperback
Are you happiest when you have a backpack strapped to your back with a sense of adventure in your heart? Then this book is for you.
Especially if...
*you love to travel
*have a sense of adventure
*are curious about eastern religion and
*have ever had a remote interest in India.
The author is from Australia and follows her boyfriend, who works for the BBC, to India. Its witty and fun with serious bits like a good main course. Highly recommended.
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